Category Archives: History

Tigers and Tribals in India

Sharad Vats asks: “Who needs more conservation; Tiger or the Tribes of India? “

He explains that the government is trying to protect an endangered species and is considering the relocation of some tribal villages to give the tiger a safe area in which to live.


In April it was reported that for the first time in this century, the global tiger population in the wild has grown to 3,890 in April 2016 from 3,200 in 2010 – an increase of almost 22%.

Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries

The tribes in question are the Baigas (below), who – like the tigers – have lived for centuries in the forested districts of Mandla and Balaghat, which house Kanha National Park. Baigas practice shifting cultivation, which the government feels drives deforestation. But Sharad thinks that it is the development strategy of the nation which leads to deforestation. He explains that during his recent visit to the area via Nagpur he saw expansion of National Highway 7 cutting few thousand trees and asserts that this expansion of roads network, and small Tehsils like Baihar, Paraswada, Birsa is accounting for more deforestation than are the tribals.


In 2005, Sunita Narain, appointed chair of a Tiger Task Force reviewing the management of tiger reserves in the country, pointed out: “the British stripped the forests of Ratnagiri in coastal Maharashtra to make ships and railway lines and independent India sold its forests for a pittance to the pulp and paper industry. This was the extractive phase. Sharad adds: “Mining is destroying forests at a much faster rate than tribals could destroy in 200 years – but they would not do so. Their wants and desires are few, dependent on the forest for their livelihood and so seeing the need to preserve them”.

The Forest Act 2006 was passed following massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people. Sharad singles out Ekta Parishad which organized some of those walks and demonstrations.

He continues: “But an ad hoc shifting is not a solution. One must do it scientifically, strategically, with their sanctions and without sufferance. Not easy to do, but possible for sure. Also, if a master plan is made to shift only some crucial villages and not all then it is fine. One must remember that Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries. Making a forest bereft of them could actually put the forest at risk, and this the administration and forest department realizes well”.

Sunita points out that these tribal lands are rich in natural resources — minerals, forests, diverse wild plant, insect & animal species – and are the source of water that irrigates farms, that villagers and city-dwellers drink. Her recommendation is that policies to build green, enterprising futures from the use of forests – which provide fish, firewood, fodder, building materials and raw material for industry – are needed.

Sharad Vats ends, “For me Tiger and Tribes are both integral to each other. None can be sent to another planet to survive, they must co-exist”.

And Sunita says that “the answer, untested across the world, lies in our abilities to use the environment so that forests and people can coexist”.





Food producers rejoice: the proposed Land Acquisition Bill has been withdrawn and the 2013 Land Bill restored

Devinder Sharma, writing from Delhi brings an update, after giving a brief historical overview: “Hundreds of people displaced as early as in 1948 for the construction of the Bhakra dam have still not been rehabilitated, and thousands of those evicted for the construction of a series of dams on Narmada river are still fighting for their legitimate dues, the latest report of the Socio-Economic Survey for Rural India has brought out the economic vulnerability from growing landlessness”.

Protest against and acquisition around Jaipur - web photo

Protest against land acquisition around Jaipur – web photo

Livemint India explains that the principle objective of the 2013 Bill is fair compensation, thorough resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected, adequate safeguards for their well-being and complete transparency in the process of land acquisition.

Opposition to the proposed new land acquisition ordinance became increasingly strident this year with farming activists, opposition Congress Party demonstrations and Aam Aadmi leader, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal joining hands with social activist Anna Hazare to resist it. In July this site posted ‘India’s arable land – its greatest asset – is under threat’.

Is it a triumph of democracy or a simply a temporary reprieve – an outcome of political necessity?

anna hazare supporters febPrime Minister Narendra Modi is now saying that the government was always willing to listen to good suggestions from any institution, political party or farmers, and earlier had said that UPA’s land bill 2013 was passed in hurry. His rationale was that the new bill that his government was trying to bring in would remove the hurdles in the path to development and in the process brings prosperity to farmers but in what appears to be a complete turnaround, Narendra Modi in one of his monthly Mann ki Baat radio programmes explained how the original land bill 2013 will be helpful for farmers.

Sharma explains the importance of land to rural people

“What has been deliberately missed out in the heated debates that followed the promulgation of ordinances on land acquisition is that a piece of land, howsoever small it may be, is the only economic security for a majority of the people. 51% of rural households have no land. They are left with no option but to depend on manual labour for their existence. Moreover, land has inter-generational benefits that can never be quantified. Depriving people of their only economic security thereby adds to their economic vulnerability, with the negative impact lingering on to successive generations. Given that only 7% of Indians own 47% of the country’s land – which means 93% of the population is somehow struggling to retain its foothold over the remaining 53% of the land resources – clearly shows how skewed is the land equation in India”.

He then examines the assertion that projects worth many lakh-crore rupees are held up because of land:

india land 4 projects cartoon

“I have heard that projects worth Rs 4 lakh-crore are held up because of land. This is not correct. According to Economic Survey 2015, only 8% of projects are held up because of land. It states that projects are held up because of unfavorable market conditions and lack of investors’ interest.

“Many surveys have shows that 45% cent of the land acquired in just five states has been utilized so far. Even in the case of Special Economic Zones, only 62% of the land acquired has been put to use. A  Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report says: “Acquisition of land from the public by the government is proving to be a major transfer of wealth from the rural populace to the corporate world.”

“Affordable housing is another justification often made. But the fact remains that the country at present needs 1.8-crore houses. It already has 1.2-crore houses/flats that are lying vacant. These houses are lying vacant because the prices are exorbitantly high beyond the reach of those who can afford it. Building more houses is therefore not the solution. The answer lies in getting the real estate to reduce prices and make these houses affordable”.

This ‘u-turn’, performed despite the ‘bullying tactics of mainline economists and the industry lobbying groups’, is not an indication of retreat or defeat. Sharma concludes: “It’s a sign of political maturity, and should be used by Narendra Modi to shift the focus of development to agriculture and rural development, which would directly benefit 70% of the population. That’s the way to ensure Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”*.

*Translated, this means: ‘Together with all, Development for all’: a Government of India policy initiative for inclusive development – a slogan coined by Prime Minister Modi.

See Devinder Sharma in Ground Reality at 9/03/2015 12:51:00 PM and in Hindi in: किसानों के हित में फैसला Dainik Jagran, Sept 3, 2015. And

See also

A summary – ‘Dabbawalas: Mumbai’s lunchbox carriers’

chs stats 2Most visitors to the site last week were from India, understandably, but closely following were United States viewers – expats?

The most sought-after items are cultural rather than topical/political, so we direct readers to a very long article in the Financial Times: ‘Dabbawalas: Mumbai’s lunchbox carriers’, by David Pilling and Avantika Chilkoti.

To read it in full and see the array of photographs, go to Though a subscription site, this link appears to give access to all.

Describing a procedure well-known to most readers, the FT article focusses on Dashrat Kedari, with his 7ft-long wooden crate on which, fenced in by a metal rim, are 30 or so silver tins, as he climbs the stone steps of Mumbai’s Santacruz station among the press of people in the rising morning heat.

Photograph: Nishant Shukla

Photograph: Nishant Shukla

Kedari is one of 5,000 lunchbox carriers who keep the office workers of Mumbai supplied with home-cooked food. “My brother did it, that’s why I did it,” he adds of his eventual graduation, aged 16, to the profession. “This job makes me feel good. Feeding people is a worthwhile occupation.”

Organised as a co-operative, they earn a decent wage of some Rs12,000, or $200, a month, enjoy job security and command respect.

The dabbawalas conduct some 260,000 transactions daily — 130,000 boxes are delivered to offices every morning and 130,000 are returned home every afternoon — six days a week, 51 weeks a year. A Harvard Business Review study honed in on four factors: organisation; process; worker empowerment (the dabbawalas set their own prices and find their own customers); and culture (they hail from the same cluster of villages and have a shared religion and language). Pilling adds that the dabbawala system could not function if Mumbai’s extensive train network did not work, as it does, to a high level of efficiency. It is also aided by the city’s linear layout.

After an account of Kedari’s day the varied diets delivered are mentioned:

  • Parsis, descendants of Zoroastrians from Iran and
  • Gujaratis from the neighbouring state have distinctive cuisines.
  • There are Hindus who don’t eat beef,
  • and Muslims who don’t touch pork.
  • The strict diet of Jains excludes onions, potatoes and garlic.

Although the dabbawalas work in units of about 20, they regularly shuffle boxes between teams and, rather like Toyota’s legendary assembly-line workers, tweak things in the interests of efficiency. “We do it every day,” Kedari explains. “We recognise each other and know where each of us is heading.”

The lid of each dabba is marked with a code combining numbers, letters and colours, a system for identifying the delivery address that has evolved because many of the dabbawalas can’t read. They sort the tins into batches according to their codes. At Lower Parel, the tiffins are unloaded on to push bikes, which are waiting for them, unattended — the dabbawalas say their system relies on the trust and respect of Mumbai’s residents.

Dr Pawan G Agrawal, whose father and grandfather were dabbawalas, earned his PhD studying how the dabbawalas operate. His 2010 thesis, supervised by the Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, is entitled “A Study of Logistics and Supply Chain Management of Dabbawala in Mumbai”. Dr Agrawal is based in the Agrawal Institute of Management & Technology in Vikhroli. Although dabbawalas are unique to Mumbai, Agrawal says they have much to teach other businesses.

Agrawal is now a regular on the lecture circuit, coaching multinationals in the theory and practice of dabbawala logistics from Microsoft and Tata Consultancy to Capgemini. He introduced the dabbawalas to Virgin’s boss, Sir Richard Branson: “I was two days with him. He travelled with us in the luggage compartment.”

In his book, Masters of Supply Chain Management, Agrawal says the dabbawala service began in 1890 when a Parsi banker employed a young man from near Pune to deliver a lunchbox from his home to his Mumbai office. Slowly the service expanded and more dabbawalas were recruited from villages near Pune.

Like the Harvard Business Review, Agrawal emphasises community. “If the people are not good, the system can collapse. So people are important. Because they are from the same community, this is good.”

One question the dabbawalas struggle with is whether their business can survive the onslaught of modernity.

More women work and so are not at home to prepare food for their husbands. People eat out more. The emerging middle classes order takeaways. The dabbawalas have mostly stayed with their 125-year-old model. “New technology is for the literate,” says Medge. “We dabbawalas don’t know much about technology.”

Rishi Khiani, a serial entrepreneur, who recently acquired a company called Meals on Wheels, employs deliverymen who will earn slightly more than dabbawalas and are armed with Android devices and an app that allows customers to follow their orders on their smartphones. But Khiani reckons that the dabbawalas can adapt and survive. So cost-effective are they that, although Khiani is launching a rival (but smaller) delivery service, his business will use the dabbawalas’ network.

Khiani reckons that the dabbawalas can adapt and survive. So cost-effective are they that, although Khiani is launching a rival (but smaller) delivery service, his business will use the dabbawalas’ network.

The dabbawalas have tried to adapt in other ways: they sometimes deliver fliers or samples for companies, including multinationals such as PepsiCo. In April, Flipkart, India’s Amazon equivalent, announced a tie-up with the dabbawalas for the delivery of books, toys and other items.

Dabbawalas are such a familiar sight that the security guard doesn’t even bother to look up as Kedari goes up to the third floor, drops off some boxes and then goes up to the seventh, where he delivers one more.

Kedari strolls through some of the best addresses in Mumbai as if he owns the place, delivering the dabbas right to the secretary’s desk, or leaving them outside in the corridor. In all, he makes about a dozen stops. A few hours later, he will return to pick up the empty dabbas ready for the return journey. At around 3pm, he finally has the chance to eat his own tiffin, prepared by his wife that morning. “By the time I get mine,” he says with a shrug, “it’s cold.”


The Adivasi Academy in Gujarat

local futures header

A lead about the Adivasi Academy in Gujarat was seen on the website of Local Futures/International Society for Ecology and Culture.

CHS-Sachetan’s co-founder, Winin Pereira, valued the thinking of one of its founders, Helena Norberg-Hodge, linguist and author of ‘Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh’, writing:

Winin Pereira3“Regarding Helena’s book, I am not merely “delighted” but astounded at the similar conclusions drawn, almost as if we are reading each other’s minds. In some cases she has used expressions very similar to mine . . . Also amazing is the fact that two communities so different in nature (one in the cold, resource-poor region of Ladakh and the other in the tropical, high-resource area of Maharashtra; one highly religious and the other animist) should have similar customs and culture”.

The website continued: Adivasis – tribal groups considered to be the aboriginal population of India – are facing powerful social and economic pressures that lead many to abandon their own language in favour of Hindi, Gujarati, or English.

Warlis carrying firewoodWarlis carrying firewood

CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira studied and recorded the Warli culture for many years. As Shabnam, daughter of Nergis Irani, wrote during the finally successful campaign opposing the plan to build a P&O port in Vadhavan: “We are all fighting to protect what both him and us love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he provides will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis and in ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but emulated”.

Winin and colleagues in Jeevan Nirwaha Niketan, offered healthcare and education to children from disadvantaged families, who repeatedly fail the school entrance or end-of-year tests. The curriculum stressed the values of a just participatory and sustainable society, based on Indian culture. It was delivered first in Marathi; in the final grade, five, Hindi was introduced and a working knowledge of English imparted. Research has found that early years’ teaching in the mother tongue is most effective – see the references here. The director’s report records that by 1984, there were seven social work sections housed in different parts of Andheri and four hundred participants, not counting families and others in surrounding communities.adivasi academyThe Adivasi Academy, based in Tejgadh, Gujarat, is trying to save the endangered languages of the linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent and to show its students that their native languages and cultures are worth preserving. It has been established to create a unique educational environment for the study of tribal communities and aims to become an institute for the study of tribal history, folklore, cultural geography, social dynamics, economy, development studies, medicine, music, arts and theatre.

The building is an example of eco-friendly and cost effective construction, using entirely local materials and labour, bringing to mind the clay structures designed by Keralan architect, Laurie Baker.

In the early days of the Academy, it was decided that formal educational qualification need not be the most serious consideration for being appointed as member of faculty at the Academy. At least one batch of students was trained by Shri Mansing Rathwa, who has never attended a school, but is a tremendous painter of Pithora, and Dr. Bhagwandas Patel, a highly accomplished folklore scholar—forming a single team for conducting classes for Museuology students learning to organise, arrange and manage museums. Young journalists and expert filmmakers have come together to teach the students of Media Studies.mahua treeRajmohan Gandhi, Mahashweta Devi, Justice M N Venkatachaliah have lectured the students, sitting on the rock under the famous mahua tree at the Academy, and lectured students ranging from 7 to 30 in age.

The Faculty has a mix of young postgraduates drawn from Adivasi communities and visiting scholars including Prof. Shereen Ratnagar, Prof. Lachman Khubchandani and Dr Ashish Kothari.

The Sorosoro website records that Ganesh Devy, former professor at Yale, arrived in Gujarat in the 90s to teach at Baroda University and made contact with a large number of indigenous tribes in the area. He sat under a tree one day and listened to village youngsters as they spoke about the way they envision their future, and what should be done to help their communities develop. Today some of those youngsters hold key positions in the academy:

“The air here is filled with a sense of peace, serene joy, pleasure for togetherness, and pride in showing short-term visitors what has been accomplished: a genuine economic and cultural development center for native populations”.

Dire forebodings about the advancement of Narendra Modi – tempered by the analysis of David Pilling

david pillingDavid Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, who oversees coverage of the Asia region from Afghanistan to Australia, including China, India and Japan, brings genial but penetrating insight to economics, politics, culture and development issues across Asia.

In 2011 and 2012, he was named Best Commentator by the Society of Publishers in Asia for his columns on China, Japan, India and Pakistan and the writer looks forward to reading his latest book on Japan, when it is issued in paperback in September.

Three extracts from his longer and more wide-ranging article:

“Fears about Mr Modi, a celibate who abandoned his wife to pursue religious devotion, are based not only on revenge killings in Gujarat in 2002 (link tweeted by Pilling), when, as the state’s chief minister, he was accused of standing by while more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died. More fundamentally, many liberal Indians worry about his links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organisation with its roots in a paramilitary group dedicated to the cause of Hindu nationalism.

modi victory address vadodaraModi’s victory speech in Vadodara may be read here.

“The hope, shared by most of the pro-Modi business elite, is that Mr Modi will listen to his better angels. A common refrain is that he has matured. Gujarat has been peaceful, and increasingly prosperous, since 2002. Another is that India, with its independent institutions and federalist system, can never fall under the sway of one man . . . “

The article ends:

“Mr Modi has stirred the pent-up yearnings of millions who have glimpsed India’s economic awakening from afar. He has also encouraged those who long for the birth of an identity politics based on a narrow definition of Hinduism. The former is to be welcomed. The latter decidedly not”.

Could the Philippine transformation happen in Mahim, Mumbai?

forum future logoA short article in Green Futures, published by Forum for the Future, with a spectacular double page spread photograph, prompted a web search.

biomatrix manila before

The website of Habitat International Coalition, which has been active in the area, relates that Paco Market, on the edge of the Estero de Paco, was once a bustling centre of commerce. Local fisherman took their day’s catch directly from the ocean down the Pasig River to Estero de Paco, one of its largest tributaries. After WWII, the Pasig River began to become polluted and the Paco Market was neglected for years; the market vendors threw all their garbage and waste into the river and squatters moved in, building directly on the banks of the sewers, impeding the flow and ‘further deteriorating the water quality’.

bio manila treatment tanksWithin a year, the Paco market and Estero de Paco have been transformed into a world-class market and a clean tributary. The garbage was removed by the River Warriors – volunteers living beside the waterways -who cleaned the water with small nets and ensured that no more garbage is thrown into the river. The shores now have vetiver grass growing to prevent erosion and coir has been mixed with a helpful bacteria to decompose garbage and treat the waste water and sludge. Air is being pumped in so that the water can sustain life and fish can return.

Read more here.

As the train moves over the causeway to Mumbai’s Mahim Junction passengers can see a similar problem.

bio mahim

Below: a settlement near Mahim Junction

bio mahim settlement near junction

But see the potential: a little further on towards the city

bio mahim towards city

Across the world, urban waterways are dying as rural-urban migration leads to cities growing faster than the infrastructure can cope.

Developed nations are not immune to this. While the River Thames is much cleaner than it was, according to Thames Water, on average, 39m tonnes of untreated sewage overflows into the river each year when London’s Victorian sewers become overloaded.

Before reading about protests about the Mahan coal mining project in Madhya Pradesh . . .

richard douthwaite2Impressions of Singrauli written by the late Richard Douthwaite in Chapter 13 of THE GROWTH ILLUSION – a book written after a visit to India which included time spent with Winin Pereira at the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Mumbai – pictures added.

The lack of a proper system of checks and balances meant that anyone whose land was required for, say, an opencast mine or a dam was displaced with minimal compensation and little attempt at resettlement; if they protested they were branded as anti-national.

Growth IllusionOne of the worst examples of government companies running out of control is in Singrauli, an ancient tribal princely state between the Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh and the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh. Until thirty years ago Singrauli was almost untouched by modern industry and its people made their living by grazing animals, collecting forest produce, and a blend of fixed and shifting cultivation.

In 1961 the opening of the Rihand dam to generate electricity undermined all that. Nearly 200,000 people lost their land as the dam’s waters rose – their villages were flooded without notice as the easiest way of making sure they moved quickly away No-one knows where 50,000 of them went, but the rest settled on the only land they could get, the valley sides.

'Greenfield aluminium smelter' Singrauli

‘Greenfield aluminium smelter’ Singrauli

The next step in the development programme was to build an aluminium smelter to use the power the dam was generating. This required the construction of a railway line to bring in the alumina. Other chemical factories, such as one making sodium hydroxide, also moved in. Then, in the late sixties, coal was found in the narrow valleys, and huge opencast mines were opened to extract it, and, rather than haul it away, three `superthermal’ power stations were built close by. Three more even larger ones are under construction today.

As Suresh Sharma wrote in the Lokayan Bulletin in 1986:

Bare statistics hardly convey the anguish and trauma of the suffering. To begin with, the people accepted terrible hardship in the innocent belief that it was for the greater good of all. But uprooting of homes has become a permanent feature of life in Singrauli. People have been displaced from their homes as many as six times in twenty years. And this has happened as a part of what is supposed to be planned development. The near absence of the most elementary concern for human decency makes the hardship unbearably humiliating. People are driven out of their homes like cattle and dumped anywhere, even in pouring rain …

With each passing year, the world around appears to the inhabitants of Singrauli less and less within their control and comprehension. Forests have disappeared as the reach of the Forest Department and contractors extended into the hinterland … to satisfy the demand for timber in the large cities … but the small cultivators and the landless, for whom the forest has been an unfailing refuge for food and fuel since time immemorial, have to bribe or steal wood even to cremate their dead (and) women and children have to spend more and more time foraging for fuel to cook the family evening meal.

(p238) Penetration of the modern market into the hinterland has undermined both the viability and legitimacy of local crafts and skills. The massive ecological disturbances entailed by large-scale mining and power generation have created serious problems of soil erosion and pollution. Benefits that flow from coal mining, power generation and timber felling … have become the prerogative of the better-off sections of society and the large urban centres. Local inhabitants are expected to be content with paying the social and cultural costs entailed in development.

During a visit to Singrauli in 1988, its muddy hillsides, bare except for an occasional lopped tree, gave me the impression of a First World War battlefield. Slums and shanties surround the aluminium works, although further away there are smart housing colonies, complete with schools and hospitals. These are almost exclusively for the workers imported from the plains: very few of the tribals have been able to get jobs with the industries that have moved in. `Outsiders are taking the jobs and the tribals’ land,’ a social activist, Prembhai, told me. `This area is going to be the energy capital of India, but its people are not.’

There are many public projects like Singrauli in India and, without exception, they have involved the taking of resources away from the poor. This has convinced many Indians that it was not enough for Nehru to restrict private enterprise to avoid its harmful consequences. State enterprises with the same goal as capitalism – economic growth, the increase in output above all else – can be equally bad, or perhaps worse, as once the state is involved directly there is no-one to adjudicate between the exploiters and the oppressed.

Economic growth is a new colonialism draining resources away from those who need them most, says Vandana Shiva, and looking around Singrauli, with its yawning gulf between the prosperous newcomers and the tribals they have displaced, you can see what she means.

Next, news from Anne about the Essar protest in Singrauli